Ideally speaking, Donghyuck wouldn’t be begging for a part-time job had he not blown all his savings for the semester. But if he were to blame anyone, then it’d probably be Jaemin’s fault.
In Donghyuck’s defense, Jaemin has a ridiculously persuasive way around him, saying how buying a camera on sale would be his best purchase for the year. (“Get it now or regret it later,” his voice still sing-songs in Donghyuck’s head. By now it sounds like an apparition.)
At that time, it did sound like a sweet deal– a camera for each of them at almost half the price. It was a steal. Except Jaemin is actually good at it while Donghyuck knows jackshit. Fast forward to two months and it’s dusting on top of his shelf, begging to be picked up like an old forgotten toy.
But it’s not like he didn’t try to make use of it. For two whole weeks, he took the initiative of dropping by Sungchan’s place to try and get him to teach the basics, but everytime the kid opens his mouth to discuss the aperture and the focal points and the depth of field, Donghyuck concludes that photography just isn’t in his line of interest.
So he tried to sell it. Unfortunately, no college student in the right mind is as spontaneous in handing over money as he is (a foolish habit, he’s been told), so fast forward to two more months and Donghyuck is still with a camera he can’t dispose, and with that, a few thousand dollars poorer.
“Hey, you’re looking for a job right?” Mark asks him one time. “There’s an opening at the café I work f–”
“Yes!” Donghyuck didn’t even think twice before he could agree.
Although he does love making decisions before getting the full picture out of anything, he agreed on sight knowing full well that a) It pays more than a day’s job at the library, b) It’s less physical labor than cleaning the university gym during free period; and c) John’s Café is barely a ten-minute bus ride away from campus. Twenty if he’s walking. Which he’d rather opt for if he plans on saving as much cents as he can. God, he is in need of cash.
He doesn’t get ahold of the disadvantages until he sits down with the owner, Johnny, just before they finalize a deal.
“So you have to memorize recipes–”
Donghyuck nods. No problem, it’s like studying for a home econ exam.
“–And your shift starts from 8 to midnight–”
Doable, his classes end at 7 anyway.
“And in some instances, Mark works undertime so you have to close the shop on your own. Is that okay?”
“Fine by me.”
He can just say Mark owes him a favor.
Johnny laughs. “Well, that was easy.” He stands up to exchange a handshake with Donghyuck for formality, telling him he could start as early as tomorrow.
On his first day, Mark keeps him company for their entire shift. The job isn’t particularly hard and it’s not something two guys behind the counter can’t do. The worst it could get is during the rush hour at 8, but even that seems manageable enough that Donghyuck thinks he bagged a gold mine with this job.
The real burden happens a week after. By now, even Mark agrees that Donghyuck can handle the shop on his own, especially since barely few new customers arrive past 10. The only ones left are the small bunch of college students pulling all-nighters and a few friendgroups catching up in between the weekends.
“Don’t forget to lock the back door,” Mark reminds him right after changing out of his apron. “And before you leave, always p–”
“–Pull the machines out of the socket. I got it, Mark. Just go,” he sighs in mock annoyance, even motioning to pull Mark away from behind the counter.
Mark lets out a relieved exhale, allowing himself to be dragged off for the night. Normally, Donghyuck would love making his life a little more miserable than it already is, having been friends joined by the hip ever since they were in high school. But he also knows that it’s almost game season. And when practice hours usually happen in the wee hours of dawn until noon, he’d be entirely heartless sending Mark to train in the basketball court with barely four hours of sleep.
“You owe me lunch tomorrow, though!” he yells one last time just as Mark runs off to push the back door open.
He hears Mark let out a laugh as he jogs his way past the street, and when he looks back at the shop, a couple of heads are turned his way, curious looks on their faces over the only noise in the ambiency.
Donghyuck makes a mental note that yelling isn’t exactly coffee shop etiquette.
By 11, most of the people have already packed up and left. Donghyuck finds himself tapping his foot impatiently as he waits for the clock to strike midnight like he’s watching paint dry. No one has ordered a refill nor are there any new customers coming in, so he empties out the last batch of brewed coffee and gets ready to clock out.
When the last customer leaves, Donghyuck gives his best customer-friendly smile, waving Mr. Lee a goodbye and a safe trip back home. It’s quickly replaced with an exhausted sigh and a curse to the universe as he begins to rip his apron off.
But just as he shoves it back inside the drawer, the bells from the entrance door chimes, and he instinctively looks back up at the sight of a stranger, seemingly around his age, and he pulls the hood of his jacket as he squints at the menu.
“I’ll have a large Cappuccino to go, please.”
“Oh. Sorry, we’re already closed. It’s midnight.”
Donghyuck thinks he’s polite enough to decline a customer right when he’s about to go home, but turns out he’s not being let off the hook so quickly. The boy blinks at him questionably, turning to look down on his phone. “It’s 11:58, actually,” he mumbles loud enough for Donghyuck to hear. When he turns to look back up, he tilts his head an inch, as if telling Donghyuck to brew him that coffee he’s asking for.
As stubborn as Donghyuck is, he knows there’s no way around it, and he can’t risk losing a job so early as now if it meant being the only way to get by. So he digs in his palms and bites his tongue, ultimately making his way back behind the counter to turn the machine on and wait for the coffee to brew.
“Is it universal law to have someone come in just before closing time? I thought these miseries only happen in movies.”
Donghyuck slams the newly-bought tub of ice cream at the table that it sends Mark flinching. He slides at the adjacent seat in the cafeteria and stabs through it with a wooden spoon, finding it oddly amusing as he reimagines it to be the late-night customer’s head.
“Rough shift?” Mark blinks, a little too horrified at how harshly he’s digging through his snack.
“The worst. I had to close fifteen minutes past midnight because someone came in just when I’ve emptied out all the brewed coffee. The bus was already closed too so I had to walk back to my dorm building. God, I hate last-minute customers.”
“Wait–” Mark sits up, alert. “Did it look like someone our age? Shorter than me? A little lanky with dark hair and wears a three-toned hoodie?”
The thrill in his voice sends Donghyuck frowning. “How’d you know? Does he haunt you every midnight too?”
“I see you’ve met Renjun.” Mark lets out a satisfied smile. “Nah, he’s a photojournalist for the sports team. I see him by the bleachers a lot during practice but yeah, he does have a habit of dropping by just before midnight. Can’t exactly say no to him ‘cause I don’t want to find out there’s a hideous spread of me on the sports page, so I try my best to be nice.”
Donghyuck frowns harder, and Mark laughs, evidently not as peeved about it as he is.
“I’m kidding. A cappuccino’s not so hard to whip last-minute so it’s no bother, I guess.”
“Well, it is to me,” Donghyuck grumbles. It’s no surprise he’s linked to this person somehow, and most definitely not now that he knows it’s through Mark. The guy might as well be friends with everyone– including the one causing misery to his closing hours. “Who the hell drinks caffeine at midnight anyway?”
Mark’s eyes flicker down at Donghyuck’s tub of ice cream, which he continues to grumpily devour. Given the situation, there’s really no place for him to complain over Renjun’s drink preferences at late hours, especially when this is what he’s having for lunch.
Mark only shrugs. “To each our own.”
“See you tomorrow,” Mark says, stowing his apron away right after he’s changed into his clothes. “If Renjun drops by tonight, don’t start a fight with him. Please?”
“That I can’t promise,” Donghyuck jokes, and when Mark throws him a scolding look, he immediately shakes his head, chuckling at how badly he wants the two of them to get along. “I’m joking! I’ll be civil. But don’t expect me to be all chummy with your friend.”
“Just don’t throw out any unused coffee until after closing. Save some for him just in case.”
“That means I’d still be staying up past midnight to clean whatever’s left.”
Mark sighs, shaking his head. Perhaps there really is no satisfying him about any given solution. “I don’t know, Donghyuck. Just… remind yourself it pays, I guess.”
He pushes the back door open before Donghyuck could get another word out (a complaint, really), and just like that, Donghyuck is left alone for another hour to kill.
Time goes by pretty dull, as most nights do, but it’s a lot slower now that he’s been alone behind the counter. Donghyuck busies himself by restocking lids and cups from the shelves as he waits for the minutes to pass by. He stifles a yawn and tries to keep his eyes from getting heavy, reminding himself that there's at least ten more minutes before his shift ends– fifteen if he counts Renjun barging in last-minute, and sure enough, at five minutes before closing, he hears the familiar chime of the bell.
"You're early," he greets, sarcastic. Renjun doesn't seem to take offense, even lets out a chuckle as he digs in the pockets of his hoodie.
Donghyuck tries his hardest not to scowl when he takes his money, reminding himself of Johnny’s very important ‘customer service’ virtues and the fact that he needs to suck up to this job if he wants to pay off for the camera that’s molding in his room. He keeps it where it’s visible just to remind himself he can’t quit just yet.
They stay in silence like that for a few good minutes, and Donghyuck feels the awkwardness set in when he starts shifting his weight. He stares at the pot, the sound of it being the only thing that’s not completely keeping them quiet. Has coffee always brewed this long?
Renjun doesn’t seem to be as troubled as he is, eyes fixated on his phone as he has his back leaned against the counter. If he wanted to free himself from the swallowing silence, then Donghyuck could easily start conversation, ask what Renjun busies himself with at the dead of night, especially after finding out that he writes for the school paper too.
But then again, it’s not his place. Even so, he’s not even interested at all. All Renjun is to Donghyuck is proof of the universe for being that one guy who comes in just in time for closing, the person people on Reddit complain about, and Donghyuck has to deal with that if it means getting by for the rest of the year.
When the machine finally ticks, Renjun pulls himself up, reaching out for the drink that Donghyuck slides carefully over the counter. There’s no exchange between them apart from that, and when he takes a sip, Donghyuck could swear his eyes light up a little, almost like he just downed a cup of serotonin.
The most Renjun offers is a smile and a nod– not even apologetic at that, and mumbling the words of “See you tomorrow,” as he pushes the front door open with his shoulder, ultimately leaving Donghyuck to clean up what’s left behind.
Their encounters usually go on like that for the next few nights: Renjun would come in five to ten minutes before midnight, order a Cappuccino (which Donghyuck already knows how to brew like the back of his hand) and set off to leave as soon as he sips from it. There’s no more to their exchange other than swapping bills and steaming cups, and Donghyuck doesn’t really mind. By now, he’s accepted and gotten used to the fact that he inevitably has to spend time cleaning up after him before he could crash back in his bed.
On one night, however, Renjun arrives significantly earlier– thirty minutes before midnight, to be exact. He’s smiling at Donghyuck like he knows it too, almost like a private joke they’ve been sharing all these days, and Donghyuck snorts as soon as he sees him enter.
Before he knows it, he’s already setting Renjun’s coffee to brew before he could even get near the counter. As soon as he does walk up to him, Donghyuck is almost surprised to hear him start a conversation. “I saw Mark on my way here.”
Renjun gestures vaguely with a free hand. “Looked like he was a bit dead on the inside.”
Donghyuck chuckles, a mental image of a zombified Mark entertaining him in his downtime. “He’s been beating himself up at basketball practice. For the big game and all.”
The snort Renjun makes doesn’t go unnoticed, and Renjun looks back like he’s been caught off-guard. “Sorry, are you a basketball fan? It’s just that I don’t think it’s the most entertaining sport everyone makes it out to be.”
“But you write for the paper.”
He shrugs. “Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.”
Donghyuck cracks an amused smile. A journalist who hates his job. It almost feels comforting.
For a split second, he could tell the brick wall between them is starting to break, and although he swore he wasn’t interested, a part of him mindlessly wants to ask, ‘Well, what do you normally enjoy then?’ but the thought is cut short when they hear the coffee machine click.
Both of them instinctively turn to look and Donghyuck wastes no time in putting a lid over the cup, handing it for Renjun to be on his way like he always does.
Renjun would’ve gone, left Donghyuck until midnight without needing to keep him up for a few more minutes, but then the sounds they hear aren’t hard to miss. It’s the subtle droplets of rain hitting the pavement outside, and although there were no more customers left in the café, Donghyuck catches Renjun turning to look around the empty seats.
There’s a troubled look on his face as he finds for anything to keep him covered on his way out, except all he has to his defense is the same three-toned hoodie he’s always worn and a steaming cup of coffee.
“I have an umbrella,” Donghyuck finds himself saying before Renjun could even ask. “I’m closing in a few minutes so you could just wait for me and I’ll walk you back to your dorm building.”
Renjun turns to look back at him. “Oh. Oh, no. I can’t. I–”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not like I can let you stay in here. I live in the West Wing, so just tell me which path to take to get to yours.”
There’s no need to insist him any further because Renjun nods small, keeping himself by the entrance door as he waits for Donghyuck to close. He’s looking out the window, a lot more bothered than he has been because by now, the rain has started pouring more and more. There’s thunder rumbling here and there too, and it’s obvious there’s no way he could’ve made it back to his dorm without getting completely soaked.
The walk back to the campus is quiet, with only the sounds of their feet hitting puddles being heard. Donghyuck makes sure to keep his umbrella upright over the both of them, and although it could easily fit one person, he hadn’t stopped to think that maybe it couldn’t keep two dry. His shoulder is already drenched wet, but he makes no attempt in pulling the umbrella towards him more. He was the one who offered in the first place.
“I live in the East Wing,” mumbles Renjun, apologetic.
Donghyuck almost slips in a puddle. “Oh. ”
“Is that okay?”
He sighs, defeated. “Well, it’s not like I can just leave you in the rain, right?”
Renjun doesn’t answer then.
The walk back from the East to the West Wing of the dormitories isn’t exactly ideal, especially for someone who badly wants to crash on his bunk with a 7AM class the next day. It’s circling almost half a yard, a muddy one at that, and it almost means having to clean his shoes and rugs on the weekend. So no, it’s not okay, but then again, it’d be worse if he had left Renjun stranded in the pouring rain. That would’ve just had him be eaten by his conscience.
When he finally drops Renjun off, he wrings the cloth from his soaked shoulder where Renjun couldn’t see, water dripping down his fingers which he shakes off begrudgingly as soon as he glances at his watch. It’s already half past midnight, which makes this worse than any other time Renjun has ever set foot in the cafe.
At this point, Donghyuck just wants to put the blame on anyone, particularly Jaemin. Because if it weren’t for that stupid camera, then maybe he’d be spending his weeknights back at the dorm playing videogames, maybe he’d be watching movies or even doing homework for God’s sake. Not cleaning up at a midnight cafe. Not walking someone back from the other end of the universe in the rain. He’d have been perfectly happy spending time on his own if it weren’t for something he didn’t think through. Now it just feels like he’s paying the price of it all.
It’s safe to say the rainy season has finally arrived. The downpour hasn’t stopped since yesterday, which isn’t helping Donghyuck at all when he’s been yawning as early as his shift started. He leaves Mark to man the cashier while he’s still around, and he hides himself in the break room to sneak short naps that’ll save him enough energy for when he’d be left alone to close.
Despite stowing himself between boxes of lids and takeout cups, he’s almost deep in his sleep if not for the knock that wakes him back up. “Hey, Donghyuck.”
“Huh?” He startles himself awake at the first rap, stumbling over the boxes that he almost tips them completely.
He could tell Mark is holding back a snort. “There’s someone for you.”
“Me?” He furrows his brows at Mark as he hoists himself up, dusting off the creases formed in his apron in his quick nap. At first he thinks it’s Johnny, perhaps being the boss that he is and conducting spot inspections. It’s probably best he doesn’t know Donghyuck’s been sleeping while he’s getting paid.
But as soon as he steps out from the back, he finds Renjun. Except this time, it’s not midnight yet. And he’s not in line to order a drink either. He’s by the sink, inside the kitchen as he wrings the three-toned hoodie dry.
“What are you doing here?”
Renjun twists in his heels and comes face to face with him. His hair is damp wet and Donghyuck could tell he’s been caught in the rain. “Oh,” Renjun lets out. His eyes shyly look at the trail of droplets that lead all the way up to him. “...Sorry about the mess.”
Mark barges in from the backdoor, carrying a mop and a wet floor sign. As soon as they both turn, he throws Renjun a dry hand towel and Renjun catches it with ease, mumbling a small ‘thanks’ as he proceeds to dry his hair with it.
“How’s your stuff, dude? Anything salvageable?” Mark asks, making his way to clean up the puddles on the floor.
Renjun sighs. “I have yet to find out.” He sets the towel down the sink, alongside the hoodie. The white shirt he has on doesn’t look like it’s completely dry either, but thankfully he doesn’t look like he’s freezing to death.
“You know, by now I would’ve figured you’d remember to bring an umbrella,” Donghyuck says, and it makes Renjun look up at him, the same apologetic face he had when Donghyuck was forced to walk him back to his building in the rain.
“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I actually have one in my room, I just… keep forgetting to bring it with all the stuff that I have.” He looks down at his bag by the floor, not entirely soaked, but notably wet from the rain too. “I should really learn my lesson by now.”
Donghyuck scans the room. There aren’t a lot of customers left if not for the lone businessman by the side of the window. He’s too engrossed in his laptop and typing like a madman (probably a few espresso shots crazy, too) to even care about Renjun sopping the entire cafe. Donghyuck isn’t even sure if he’s aware.
“Here,” he tells Renjun, tilting his head to come with him. Renjun follows suit, hoisting the bag up as he gets led to an empty wooden table set. Something easy to clean and dry up rather than the fabric couch if his stuff just happens to be soaked too.
Renjun slides into the seat and shuts his eyes in prayer, mumbling out a series of ‘please please please please’ while he unzips the black canvas bag. As soon as he peeks an eye open, he slumps back on his seat, sighing out in relief. “Oh, thank god.”
Donghyuck couldn’t help but sneak a glance.
It’s a camera. And lenses. Shoved inside the sleeves are a flimsy notepad and a pen, and he couldn’t help but think that maybe it’s the only thing Renjun carries with him to class too, like all photographers do.
Donghyuck watches him take it all out, opening memory card holders and battery packs to see if they’ve been caught in with water. Renjun holds his breath as he turns it on, and when it starts up normally like it would, he lets out another exhale, flipping through the shots to see if there’s anything corrupted.
“Thought you hated sports journ,” Donghyuck finds himself saying. It’s more a statement than it is a question, and he doesn’t even realize he’s already slid into the seat in front of him.
Renjun looks back up. There’s a mix of surprise and amusement on his face as Donghyuck seems to take interest, but he nods.
“Oh, I do. I’m a better night photographer though,” he says, a hint of pride in his voice. It fades all too fast when he shakes his head as if he’s said something wrong. “I mean, not professionally, but it’s a hobby. If I’m not taking photos for the school paper, then I’m taking shots of the alleys outside. In my hobbyist opinion, they look especially the best at this hour.”
He slowly slides the bag aside, almost like it’s the one barrier setting them apart. Then he turns the screen towards Donghyuck to show what he’s been busying himself with.
And Renjun’s right, the shots are beautiful. The neon lights from the signs in the streets loomed on his photos that Donghyuck wouldn’t even believe it’s snapped just right outside. It looks cinematic. Like a painting, even. And Donghyuck wonders if the outcome is because of the equipment or purely skill.
“I have a camera too. No idea how to use it like you do, though.”
Renjun smirks. “Bring it over some time and let’s have a look at it.”
He’d imagine Renjun didn’t mean it like an invite, and if it’s anything, then Donghyuck is witnessing his cheeks flush at this very moment. Renjun looks away almost too quickly, clearing his throat in an attempt to switch conversation.
Donghyuck would even say it looks kinda cute.
“So, this, uh… this still needs some post-processing. Just so I could get those hues out even more. But, you know, not so bad, right?”
Donghyuck hums. “Is this why you always come ‘round at midnight?”
“I have a passion project by the end of the year.” He nods, a little shy. “I’ve been planning on it for a while so I’m really excited.”
“You don’t have to pretend to be interested, it’s fine.” Renjun laughs, and so does Donghyuck because, well… It’s true. He’d be the last person to want to know a single thing about photography, or art in general, but the thing is, right this moment– and he doesn’t know if he’s just bored out of his mind– hearing Renjun talk about it doesn’t seem like such a horrible way to pass time.
Before he could reassure Renjun about it, he gets cut off by a soft mutter.
“Also… about last night.” He watches Renjun look down, pulling away back to his seat. “I’m really sorry. Letting you walk all the way to the East Wing like that.”
The apology is… genuine. A part of Donghyuck has been too unguarded to accept it because sure, it wasn’t the most convenient way to get home, but has Renjun been burdened by this since yesterday? Donghyuck never wanted it to seem like he did it without intentionality. It was raining, and he had an umbrella while Renjun didn’t. The math wasn’t that hard.
The thought gets swayed aside when the rain starts hitting the pavement harder outside, as if butting in on a conversation between them that says ‘Look at me!’ and he does. The downpour is worse than yesterday, and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon. Even the lone businessman begins to pack his stuff up before he gets caught up in the storm.
“You don’t have to,” Renjun says quickly, already anticipating he’d be offered a walk back home again. “I can wait for it to stop or something.”
Donghyuck tilts his head, almost teasing. “Are you sure about that?”
Renjun steals a peak for himself. There’s no way he could convince himself either. “Maybe Mark–”
“–has a coat. Not an umbrella.”
And as if on cue, they hear Mark burst through the breakroom. “Dude, I’m clocking out!” He’s already dressed in his bright yellow poncho that Donghyuck teases him as Coraline for, and he walks up to the entrance door, a worried frown on his face as he looks up at the skies. “Weather’s been pretty bad lately,” he whistles. “You two’d be fine on your way back?”
“We got it,” Donghyuck answers before Renjun could.
It’s enough to convince Mark, waving them a goodbye as he pulls the hood over his head. “Don’t miss me too much!” he yells one last time before he pushes the door open and runs towards his way outside.
As soon as they’re alone, Donghyuck meets Renjun’s eyes again. He speaks, unhesitant. “I’ll walk you to the East Wing.”
And it’s not like he doesn’t want to, either. Yeah, it would mean spending a little more time walking back to his dorm, but is it his fault Renjun is so stubborn about preparing himself for such bad weather? That’s thousands of dollars worth of equipment with him. Donghyuck would be entirely heartless to let him come up with a solution on his own when he’s right there, perfectly capable of helping.
“No grudges?” Renjun asks, quiet. Even he knows it’s the only logical way to get home too.
“No grudges, but …” Donghyuck watches him wince, bracing himself for what it’s going to cost him. But Donghyuck isn’t asking for much. He smiles slowly, leaning back in his seat. “No more last-minute orders.”
He can’t help but laugh when Renjun glowers, knowing he’d been anticipating the worst. But then a smile forms from his lips too, and when Renjun tilts his head in a nod, he silently mutters in agreement. “No more last-minute orders.”
The rain is worse than the first time they’ve walked together, and both of them have been too hesitant in squeezing a little closer to the other until Donghyuck gives in, ultimately planting their shoulders together in an attempt to stay dry. On a normal day, he would hyperfixate on the fact that he’s walking back to campus in the middle of the night with a stranger and barely leaving any space for the holy spirit in between. But right now, he just wants to not catch a cold.
He could feel Renjun tense when they stick too close, and Donghyuck takes the liberty of moving away. If it makes him uncomfortable, that is. And he quietly allows his shoulder to get drenched without complaint.
“You’re getting soaked,” he hears Renjun shout over the rain. But before Donghyuck could refute, Renjun bunches up his hand over his sleeve, pulling him back in closer. “Stay inside the umbrella, will you?”
Donghyuck couldn’t help but grin at how enraged Renjun is by it, with knitted brows and a ‘tsk’ from his tongue when he sees that Donghyuck’s entire sleeve is dripping wet. “Maybe bring your own umbrella next time.”
Renjun rolls his eyes at the tease, and Donghyuck smiles, satisfied. By the time they look back ahead, they’ve already made it to the East Wing, and Donghyuck walks him up under the roof where he could seek shelter on his own.
But before he could walk away–
“Wait,” Renjun calls. Donghyuck turns, tilting his head in question, and he watches Renjun stand there by the entrance door, unmoving. “Your shirt…”
Donghyuck looks down at what he’s wearing, as if he’s seeing it for the first time. “Oh, this?” he wrings the sleeve hard until he’s dampened it enough. “I’ll get changed when I get home, don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll lend you a new one.”
He cocks a brow. “You’ll lend me a new one?”
“It’s the least I could do.”
Even without looking at the time, he knows it’s already much later than whenever it is he’s intended to be in his room. Donghyuck knows he should head back. No more detours, he even promised that to himself. And yet–
For Renjun’s peace of mind.
At least, that’s what Donghyuck convinces himself.
Renjun’s room is nothing that he’s expecting it to be. Then again, Donghyuck doesn’t have that much in comparison. All he’s seen is Mark’s artistry of scattered boxer shorts on the floor and trash that hasn’t been thrown out for weeks by the door. So seeing Renjun’s room right now has him gaping before he could even stop himself.
He’s nothing like Mark. Apart from posters of basketball players by the wall, plastered all over Renjun’s are polaroids. There are more camera equipment by the desk, and although it’s not the tidiest, there doesn’t seem to be any trails of breadcrumbs or molding pizza.
Renjun drops his bag by the end of his bed, rushing to a small drawer as he digs for something to lend. Donghyuck doesn’t like the idea of idly standing by the corner like a looming serial killer, so he walks up carefully to the photographs, studying them like an exhibit.
They aren’t photos of people, at least, not much of them, but landscapes. There are point-of-view shots in a good few– holding flowers, autumn leaves, or just idly reaching out to the sun. He notices a birthmark in the hand of every shot with it, and it’s only then does he realize Renjun has always had that.
Mindlessly, Donghyuck’s eyes find his hand as he hands the shirt over. The same birthmark on the photos. Donghyuck could have never imagined they carried that much elegance with him.
And with the least bit of his own elegance, he decidedly says, “Those are really cool. Your photos, I mean.”
It isn’t until the words are out does he realize just how lame that sounds, and Donghyuck winces to himself, passing the folded shirt from one hand to the other as he drowns in his own embarrassment.
But then he sees Renjun tilt his head down, hiding a satisfied smile. “Thanks.” And maybe he’s said the right thing after all.
He waves the shirt pathetically in his hand. “I’ll give it back tomorrow,” he says, not much conviction, but Renjun nods, allowing himself to smile too.
Donghyuck takes it as the invitation to walk himself up to the bathroom, closing it shut as he leans on it with his back, and he slowly sinks down the tiles with a frustrated groan.
He cannot be having a crush this easily.
Donghyuck skips lunch the next day. It’s the only time of day the coin laundry barely has any students, and he uses it to his advantage, washing up and drying Renjun’s shirt without finding the need to argue with a senior for skipping the line. He folds it neatly too, as if it’d impress Renjun that yes, he can be neat. And yes, an impressively folded shirt with the scent of lavender and mint fabric conditioner is the assurance.
Oh, Donghyuck is laughable when he’s infatuated, Mark would agree.
And for that very reason, Donghyuck doesn’t tell him. Not when Mark’s been looking for him all noon. Not even when their shift starts at the cafe, and Donghyuck has his head turning at every sound of the door chime, hoping maybe it’d be Renjun. Except hours pass and he doesn’t come by. Not even when Mark clocks out, and not even when it strikes midnight.
The rain pours like clockwork, and Donghyuck can finally close the store at the time he’s supposed to– without any last-minute orders, without working overtime to brew more coffee, and without having the need to clean the equipment. Just like he’s supposed to.
But Donghyuck couldn’t help but wonder.
When a day turns to two and two turns to three, Donghyuck felt he had to ask. “Hey, have you seen Renjun around?”
“No,” answers Mark. He’s scribbling a name down on a coffee cup and tilts his head to where he is. Donghyuck makes the mistake of meeting his eye because the wicked grin on his face is enough to conclude that maybe Mark knows why he’s asking. “You miss him or something?”
Donghyuck purses his lips as Mark continues to tease him wordlessly with wiggling brows, and he scowls, shoving him by the arm. “It was a yes or no question.”
Mark allows himself to stumble from the force, but snickers as he sets the cup on a tray, ultimately getting back to work.
When payday arrives, Donghyuck concludes that maybe Renjun really had decided to stop dropping by the cafe. Not that he was obligated to or anything, but it was just all too sudden. One day it’s a ritual and the next is it’s not. He just got used to it, that’s all, and not having Renjun drop by is just so… unfamiliar.
“There you go,” Johnny beams, handing him a creaseless envelope. “So next week, same time. I’ll have your week’s salary ready for you before the day ends.” When Donghyuck takes the cash from him, Johnny tilts his head, pointing a finger lightly. “You know, you’re the first hire I’ve had that gets sad on payday.”
Donghyuck snorts, stuffing the wad inside his backpack. “I’m thrilled, hyung. Thank you.”
“No, really. Are you getting bored? I do agree there’s not much decor so it feels a bit dull… Or is it because of closing hours? Mark used to complain about closing on his own back then ‘cause some kids would barge in before midnight and it forces him to work overtime.”
“No, it’s… it’s fine.” Donghyuck answers quietly, “It doesn’t happen anymore.”
“No more last-minute orders?”
He shrugs. “None at all.”
Johnny sighs, as if relieved. “Well, you’re in luck then.”
Truth be told, Donghyuck wishes it were the opposite. “Yeah…” He lets out a chuckle, trying not to sound too disappointed. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Donghyuck would’ve been completely fine with it. It’s been almost two weeks of a Renjun-less evening, and although a part of him still hoped it’d be him by the door whenever the bell chimes, he figured it was easier if he stopped expecting.
He started closing shop at the strike of midnight, some nights even earlier by a minute. He’d be home before half past 12, and end up in deep peaceful slumber in no time. Just how he always wanted it to be. He should be happy about it, really, and yet he goes to bed with a heavy heart, constantly wondering what it was that made Renjun stop coming over.
But one night as Donghyuck finally closes up the store, he almost runs into someone from outside, and there’s an instinctive “Oh, sorry–” that comes out his mouth just as he turns to see who the person in close proximity is.
Sure enough, it’s Renjun.
Donghyuck stands there still, a little stunned and in disbelief. Worried that any sudden movements would cause him to go away. He hasn’t seen Renjun in weeks and now here he is, right in front of him with the most delighted smile. As if no time has passed since he last invited Donghyuck up to his room.
“You’re back,” are the next words that follow. He regrets it as soon as they’re out, but Renjun doesn’t dwell into it.
“Are you busy?” he asks, like he’s been meaning to get to Donghyuck all along.
“I just closed.”
“Yeah, but…” He tilts his head, “–are you, I don’t know, free?”
Normally, Donghyuck would decline any invite after a tiring shift. Moreso at a time like this. He’d head straight to his dorm and sleep and have it be an endless cycle of school and work and sleep. That’s how it is, and that’s how it’s always been. Ever since his funds have started running low, he’s had the discipline of refusing anything that would risk further spending, and that includes dodging questions like these.
It’s past midnight, and Renjun can’t possibly be asking him to hang out at this hour. And yet–
“Where are we going?” he asks.
When Renjun grins excitedly, it’s enough to make him think he asked right. Renjun reaches out to grab and pull him by the wrist, leading him to a bright yet empty alley near the cafe. “I need a muse.”
“For a photo. The last one I need. You’ll stay anonymous if that’s what you’re worried about. I just need a silhouette.”
Renjun lets go of his hand once he’s dragged the both of them to the center of the street. The pavement is dry and there’s not been a sign of rain since morning. He looks up to the sky, gauging to see if it’ll pour anytime soon. By the looks of the stars, it looks like they’re in the clear.
Donghyuck watches him silently like that. The neon lights from behind cast a vivid blue shadow from behind Renjun’s head that resembles a crown. Renjun looks back at him and Donghyuck snaps himself out of it before it’d get too obvious that he’s mesmerized.
“What do you say?” Renjun asks, and Donghyuck shrugs lightly.
“I don’t mind.”
Renjun tries to hide a smile, tipping his head in a nod as he puts Donghyuck in place. Turning him over and over until he finds the right spot. Donghyuck lets himself be dragged around because... well, it’s interesting to see Renjun so focused. Brows knitted, lips pursed. Eyes moving way too quickly that Donghyuck knows he’s seeing something that he’s not– an artist’s perspective. It’s what intrigues him about Renjun very much.
After a short while, Renjun turns him upfront, and he takes a few steps back, peeking into his viewfinder as he points his camera towards Donghyuck. Only then does Donghyuck realize he doesn’t know what to do.
“Just look up,” Renjun says softly. And Donghyuck does.
He catches sight of a bright star, an outlier among the dull ones, and he fixes his gaze on it. The shutter clicks faintly multiple times, and once it stops, he uses it as the signal to look back down, watching Renjun make his way towards him with a satisfied smile on his face.
“Check it out.”
Renjun tilts the display where Donghyuck could see. And the view is nothing short of stunning.
“Wow,” Donghyuck couldn’t help but say. And it’s not because he’s at the center of it either, he’s merely a dark shadow, a silhouette that contrasts the lights and the stars that Renjun captured. It’s what he sees with those wondering eyes that Donghyuck couldn’t help but find wonder in.
“Pretty awesome, right?”
His eyes flicker up to Renjun’s voice, and only then does he realize how close they are in proximity. But Renjun remains oblivious as he scans through the dozens of shots he took, studying them with quick moving eyes.
Donghyuck couldn’t stop himself before he speaks. “You can’t just leave like that, you know?” he says, voice quiet and undeniably laced with hurt.
Renjun looks back up at him, like he knows exactly what he’s talking about.
“Not showing up for days? And now you’re here asking me to be in your photos like the past two weeks didn’t just happen. What's up with that?”
It slowly turns into a sly amused smile. “You were keeping count?”
“I was just–” Donghyuck feels his cheeks burn, and he masks it by fumbling for the backpack slinging on his arm. He digs for the borrowed shirt he’s been keeping for days now and shoves it at Renjun a little too forcefully than intended, much to his surprise. “–I didn’t want to owe you your shirt.”
Renjun blinks at it from his chest, almost like he’s forgotten he had lent it to him in the first place. “I’ve been waiting for a clear sky,” he explains. “It’s the last shot that I wanted for my project, and tonight was the only time it didn’t rain. So I went for it.” He shrugs, and if Donghyuck is seeing it right, he clutches on to the fabric of the shirt he lent. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to go MIA on you. But if it makes up for it, then do you want me to show you what I’ve been busy with?”
It’s another question that Donghyuck knows the answer to. The night draws longer and he knows it isn’t exactly the time to wander around the district at such a late hour. He had 7AM classes, for god’s sake. And yet, he couldn’t say no. He doesn’t feel drawn to say no. It’s a mix of curiosity and not wanting to part away just yet. Like he’s been Renjun-deprived for so long and he couldn’t possibly miss out on this chance. So he lets his indulgence take control.
“Let’s have a look at it, then.”
“So the canvases would be here, and there. Oh and there’s a portrait right here in the middle, just to draw a person’s eyes more around the whole exhibit, you know?”
In fact, Donghyuck doesn’t. But he nods. He’s not even sure if they’re allowed entry at the empty building at this hour, but Renjun managed to find an entrance from the back, and who was Donghyuck to deny him of this– wanting to discuss so passionately about what he loves doing? Sure, it feels like Renjun has been speaking an entirely different language, but Donghyuck is in awe.
“You rented this whole place?” Donghyuck asks, gaping at the high ceiling and the wide vast space where Renjun could showcase his works at.
“Technically, the art fair did. I’m only an exhibitor but I took up two spots for myself. If I send the last ones tomorrow for printing, all the canvases should be out by Thursday next week. I’d still have two days ahead of the fair to plot them the way I want it.”
“Two days…” Donghyuck does the math. It’s on Saturday. “That’s the big game.”
Renjun smiles sheepishly. He knows, nodding. “Yeah… I had to ask Jaemin to cover for me. He knew how much I wanted to attend this so I owe him one, I guess.”
“I’d show my support, but Mark’s gonna kill me if I end up ditching his game,” Donghyuck says, genuine.
He really does want to drop by for the exhibit. He’s aware of how much skill Renjun has when it comes to taking photos, and wanting to be there for something he’s so proud of just made Donghyuck want to root for him. It’s funny, he thinks to himself, because a few months ago he was so sure about being the least bit interested, but now, he doesn’t even bother hiding the disappointment of not being able to show up. On a photo exhibit, out of all places.
“Oh, god. No, don’t worry about it,” Renjun brushes it off. “My friends from the photoclub are coming over. Besides, you’ve already helped out with the last shot I needed.” He flashes Donghyuck a grin, and it’s only then does he realize that he’s a piece of Renjun’s passion project, no matter how small his part is.
“Hopefully I don’t miss out too much,” he says genuinely, and quickly tops it off with a cool and laid-back “–As your model and all.”
Renjun rolls his eyes at him, and yet he can’t quite hide a smile. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
When Saturday comes, then so does the rain, and with the rest of classes being cut short for the finals game, almost the entire campus had flocked their way to the gymnasium to root for their hometeam. Donghyuck included.
He squeezes his way someplace far down in the bleachers, and he watches the teams warm up by the end of the court, hollering Mark’s name until his cheeks flush in embarrassment. Considerably, the most entertaining part of Donghyuck’s day.
In the midst of throwing wordless taunts against each other, he feels someone tackle him from behind, ultimately making him yelp in surprise. When he turns to see who the culprit is, he finds Jaemin, snickering at his shriek and millisecond horror. Donghyuck shoves him aside for good measure.
“Hey! I haven’t seen you in ages and this is how you greet me.” Jaemin beams nonetheless.
“I took a part-time job,” he mumbles, scooting so he could take a spot beside his seat. To be fair, it should be Jaemin’s to begin with, but he doesn’t seem to mind sharing half a space.
“How’s the camera?” Jaemin lifts the one he has hanging by his neck, flashing him a wide grin. “Awesome stuff, right? Real powerful, I’m not kidding. It’s the best purchase we’ve ever had.”
“You’ve ever had,” Donghyuck corrects him. “I haven’t even used mine.”
Jaemin gapes his mouth in exaggeration. “Don’t tell me you’ve left it to dust in your room?” When Donghyuck sighs, he laughs wickedly, hitting his leg in the process that Donghyuck couldn’t help but wince at. Obviously, he doesn’t have the same sentiments. “Oh, Donghyuck,” he coos. “You said you were finally picking up a hobby with it.”
“Yeah, if I knew how the hell to use it.”
“Just keep messing around with it. That’s how everyone learns. You’ll get the hang of it soon.”
The sound of the voice calling out behind them makes them both turn their heads up. A few feet away are a couple of faces Donghyuck couldn’t quite name, but Jaemin waves with a thrilled grin. Donghyuck’s friends have always been kings of congeniality.
“Kids from the photoclub,” Jaemin explains.
“Yeah. Wanna join? We have openings for next semester. They could really help you learn how to use your equipment, if you’re interested.”
It’s a great offer, just the thing that Donghyuck needs if he really wants to be productive with a camera, but right now, he couldn’t help but frown. “Aren’t they supposed to be at Renjun’s exhibit?”
Jaemin furrows his brows, recalling until his eyes light up, gasping. “Oh, Renjun’s art fair!” But ultimately, all he could do is shrug. “They probably bailed since it’s raining. I didn’t know you two knew each other.”
“So none of his friends are there?”
“I mean…” Jaemin scratches the back of his head. “It's an open house. Anyone could drop off.”
“But none of his friends are there,” Donghyuck says pointedly.
Jaemin sighs, unable to give him an answer. He glances up one last time at the kids from the photoclub, trading drinks and flicking corn chips at each other. He doesn’t even notice he’s been glaring until he looks back at Jaemin, who looks confused as to why Donghyuck is so upset.
Before he even gets the chance to ask, Donghyuck stands up, hoisting his bag up from the floor. “I need to go,” he says. “If Mark asks, just tell him I had to leave somewhere, okay? He’ll understand.”
And he’s out of there before Jaemin could pull him back.
By the time Donghyuck bursts through the back door, the rain greets him from outside. He digs for his umbrella in his bag, like he always does these past few weeks, except he doesn’t grab hold of it in an instant. He takes a peek for himself only to realize it isn’t there, and only then does he realize he must’ve left it in the bleachers when he was in such a hurry to leave.
“Shit,” he mutters to himself.
He’d head back and try to look for it, but by now he just can’t bear to think Renjun is at the art fair. Alone. Expecting his friends who’ve never planned on coming. Donghyuck needs to be there.
So he does the spontaneous. He puts the hood of his jacket and makes a run for it.
In the process of trying to get to Renjun’s exhibit, by some sort of miracle, he doesn’t end up slipping and hitting his head along the way. The rain doesn’t stop but he manages to shelter himself under a few ledges on the sidewalk. Apart from his head, his clothes aren’t completely drenched, but still, he couldn’t help but shiver from the breeze as he tries to recall where Renjun had taken him that night, hoping that he’d get there in time.
Luckily, he spots the same poster for the art fair from outside a building, and he slips through the entrance without hesitation, earning a handful of glances as he forms puddles with every step he makes.
The small crowd dodges their way for him, at least, and while he scans the room, trying to find where Renjun is—
He spins in his heels almost too quickly, and there he is. Renjun has his mouth slightly gaped open at him, both too stunned and confused to react, and he stands still as Donghyuck marches his way to him, cold and drenched.
“Wh- what are you—”
And before he could even finish, Donghyuck unhesitantly reaches for both sides of his face, and without question, leans in to slot their lips together like it’s all he’s been dying to do. There’s a tiny gasp that Renjun manages to let out just before it happens, but it isn’t long until he melts into it too, kissing him back softly that Donghyuck’s heart starts pounding like crazy.
Renjun’s hands find the back of his head, pushing the wet strands away from his forehead as he kisses him back without question, and despite getting caught in the rain, Donghyuck thinks he could stay like this for as long as time would let him.
Before his knees could turn to jelly, he decidedly pulls back first, cheeks equally as flushed as Renjun’s that it makes Donghyuck smile seeing him clear his throat as if nothing had happened.
“Hi,” he mumbles foolishly, and Renjun couldn’t help but snort.
“Hi.” Renjun takes another step closer, eyes wandering over Donghyuck and his sodden state– strands of his hair all over his forehead, his jacket damp with fat droplets of rain, shoes soaked and muddy, a puddle forming from where he stands while he slightly drips wet. He shakes his head, laughing. “So much for always reminding me to bring an umbrella.”
As the night draws to an end, the art fair slowly starts to wrap up. By now, Donghyuck has dried himself up, and despite hearing an earful from Renjun over catching a cold, he sticks by his side until it ends.
He notices that most of their co-exhibitors are already taking down their canvases from the walls, finalizing deals with interested buyers and investors. It doesn’t take a genius to notice Renjun has not struck one with anyone.
Donghyuck helps him unhook his prints from the wall, admiring them in the process and even questioning how someone could refuse to pay for anything Renjun has ever taken a photo of. There’s one print of the coffee shop, rainy and lit by the street lamps that reflects from the puddles in the pavement. It feels like a story, and if Donghyuck was right, then he could even see him and Mark from behind the counter from inside.
“You’re really good at this, you know that?” he says mindlessly, still staring at it in a daze as he runs a hand over the print.
Renjun looks at him, a smile creeping on his face while he shakes his head. “It’s just a stupid hobby. It’s okay. I wasn’t really expecting much, I just wanted the experience.”
“Are you selling it?”
He cocks a brow at Donghyuck. “Are you buying it?”
“Well, no–” Donghyuck scratches his head, not wanting to let go because he knows exactly where this should be. “But I know someone who might.”
Just as Donghyuck had expected, Johnny was more than willing to have Renjun’s photograph be displayed at his cafe. Donghyuck even comes to work on his day off, introducing the two to each other and helping them display the new print by a vacant spot where it could be easily seen. If he’s being honest, then he’d say it’s the last final touch the cafe needed.
He’s a few inches up a ladder when he hears Johnny make small talk with Renjun, asking him about how he got started and since when he’s been working on his photos.
Eventually, Donghyuck hears Johnny say, “So that’s why he’s been moping while you were gone,” and it almost sends Donghyuck tumbling down if he hadn’t gripped on the rail.
“Hyung,” he scolds, feeling his face burn red.
Renjun responds with a flustered laugh, and Johnny only shoots him up the ladder with an amused and knowing smile. “Careful.”
Mark notices the canvas right away on their next shift together. There’s a series of daaamn and whoaa ’s as he takes his time to admire it, even noticing how the both of them were vaguely caught in the background.
“We should’ve gotten talent fees for this,” he jokes, and Donghyuck snorts, thinking how Mark might as well have for winning MVP on his big game.
Donghyuck, of course, apologized for missing out, but Mark isn’t dumb. He knows exactly why Renjun’s photo is hung on their wall. “Well, you and I both scored that’s for sure.”
Mark’s eyes light up and grins wide over the pun, but Donghyuck refuses to give him the satisfaction of hyping him up. So he tries his best to hold a straight face.
At the same time, the bell by the door chimes and they both instinctively turn to find, to their surprise, Renjun. Their shift has barely started but that’s not what shocks Donghyuck the most. Because right now, he’s watching in amusement as Renjun struggles to close his retractable umbrella and leave it at the door.
He swoops out of the counter, walking up to him by the entrance as he wordlessly reaches out for the umbrella from Renjun’s hands and closes it for him.
They lock eyes for a good while just before Donghyuck hands it back. “Took you awhile.”
Renjun shrugs, biting back a smile. “I remembered somehow,” and they both exchange a small laugh.
Donghyuck makes the mistake of glancing back at Mark, who’s by now, leaned over the counter and making kissy faces behind Renjun’s back. Donghyuck makes a mental note to strangle him in his sleep. “You’re still taking photos tonight?” he asks instead, shoving the image of Mark away.
“Oh, I didn’t come here for that,” Renjun clears his throat, rubbing the back of his head. “I came to see you,” he adds, and Donghyuck’s heart might’ve just skipped a beat. Of course, it doesn’t last long because it’s quickly followed by a “But mostly for my photo,” as Renjun twists in his heels to grin at his canvas hung by the wall.
Donghyuck rolls his eyes in mock annoyance. “I’d ask if you wanted to grab a coffee with me, but that means I have to brew it myself.” He looks back at Mark. “Or maybe we could force Mark to do it for us.”
“Hey! I can hear you, you know?”
Renjun chuckles, turning to wave at Mark, and his pout quickly turns into a genuine smile as he continues having heart eyes for the both of them.
“I was thinking tomorrow, actually,” Renjun says, turning to look back at Donghyuck. “You said you have a camera, right?” and when Donghyuck nods, he lets out a small smile. “Bring it. Maybe it’s time we meet when the sun’s up.”
A few months later...
In the height of summer vacation, the sun shines brighter than it ever has for the past five months. Donghyuck is sticky with sweat as he tries to tail behind Jaemin and Mark, who are much more ahead of the trail than the rest of them.
When he first got invited to tag along a roadtrip outside the city, he didn’t really stop to think it’d include a physically enduring hike, but here he is, panting and whining as he tries not to slip and die off the slopes of the mountain trail.
In the middle of his misery, he hears a shutter click behind, and he turns to find Renjun, face hidden behind his viewfinder. As he slowly puts the camera down, he grins at Donghyuck, walking up to meet him and show the candid shot.
“You could put that up in the next exhibit. As a centerpiece of something, I’ll allow it free of charge.” Donghyuck teases, and Renjun only snorts.
“Don’t get so full of yourself.”
Suddenly, they hear their friends from up ahead, wooing and cheering as if they’ve spotted gold. It immediately made the two of them walk up the remaining steps and see what the ruckus is about, and as soon as they heard the rush of the water, Donghyuck could’ve sworn he let out a gasp at the sight in front of his eyes.
The view of the waterfall is beautiful, and it encourages the rest of them to trail faster than they’ve been, hiking down to get to the bluest of waters they’ve ever seen. Donghyuck feels Renjun tug by his sleeve, urging him to follow along excitedly but Donghyuck grabs for his wrist to pull him back instead.
“What’s wrong?” Renjun asks, and Donghyuck shakes his head, taking a few steps back to lift the camera hanging by his neck up to his eyes. He snaps a shot quick enough, just before Renjun could hide away or turn his face. “Hey!”
He swivels before Renjun could try to snatch the camera from him and delete its existence, but it’s Renjun’s mistake for teaching Donghyuck how to play with it in the first place. The only good use Donghyuck has found of it is to take endless photos of him whenever he can, much to Renjun’s disapproval.
“I’m keeping it,” Donghyuck says, stubborn as he is, thinking maybe he could hang it in his wall along with the rest of the other photos of Renjun he has there.
“I should never have taught you how to use that thing,” Renjun grumbles, but he doesn’t fight back, only hooks his chin on Donghyuck’s shoulder from behind as he peeks to look at it too.
The funny thing is, if he had never learned to use the impulsively bought camera, then it might as well just be collecting dust in his shelf to this day. He still would’ve worked the long hours at Johnny’s coffee shop, counting the days he’d break-even from the costs and he certainly wouldn’t be able to get a summer break if it meant working full-time.
Except now he’s here, a few hundred miles away from the city, with the friends he’s had and made along with the new hobby he’s grown to love. And maybe, just maybe, having Renjun cross him just before every closing time at the cafe had been something Donghyuck needed all this time.